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Studia Phaenomenologica

Volume 19, 2019

On Conflict and Violence

Michael Barber
Pages 235-250

Could the Focus on Transcendental Violence Be Violent?

Eddo Evink criticizes Emmanuel Levinas’s supposed view that all acts of intentionality and rationality commit transcendental violence against their objects, including the Other. If this is so, Levinas undermines the possibility of his own philosophy. Evink further argues: that there are non-violent forms of intentionality and so intentionality is only potentially violent; that some non-violent counter-pole is needed to define violence; that there are contradictions in Levinas’s notion of violence; that Levinas, like empiricists, aspires to a metaphysical absolute untainted by language; and that he presupposes the philosophical, ontological, and linguistic frameworks he criticizes. However, to answer these objections, one must understand Levinas as developing two distinct modalities of relationship: Being and Otherwise than Being. These modalities clash in the face-to-face relationship when the phenomenon of the face defects into responsibility for the Other. The epistemology and ontology of Being involve distinctive acts, affects, forms of temporality, and experiences of self that undergo a tectonic shift in confrontation with the ethically obligating Other. Here the focus is not on the violence of concepts ever seeking to subjugate the Other but rather on the Other whose summons both provokes knowledge to retreat and is able to be shown in a philosophy, even if that philosophy betrays the saying in the said, while also having the potential to reduce that betrayal. The focus should not be on transcendental violence tracking down and cornering the Other but on the Other ethically disrupting Being. With that focus, it becomes clear that concentrating on transcendental violence is a kind of violence.

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